Stop making me think! How rude.

In a follow up to my post on people as information processors, consider this anecdote:

Because I am actually rather mad, I love to take classes that have no apparent relationship to my immediate research (but which, thankfully, tend to work out in the end). A couple of semesters ago I was taking a GIS class that involved spending insane hours in the university’s GIS lab – a glorious place of high-speed computers and dual monitors. You don’t use dual monitors? Barbarian. Get off my blog.

Most of the time, the lab was very quiet. I was usually the only person in there. Every now and then some assholes would play World of Warcraft in the back, but that was never a big deal. One day, however, I had a rather excruciating experience. An Asian girl (I’m guessing Chinese, but I’m notoriously bad at such identification) was in the lab. After we had been typing away quietly for about half an hour, she started to eat an apple.

And damn, did she eat that apple. Smacking her lips, taking big juicy bites out of it – it was literally so bad that I had to “go to the bathroom” just to get away from it. Of course, I know that in many Asian cultures it’s considered rude not to noisily enjoy your food. I don’t blame her. But why is that considered rude, really? I think a big part of it is just that our brains are designed to minimize the cognitive effort we expend on dumb stuff. So we get attuned to things – we develop norms and expectations. When something makes us think, we get annoyed.

At least partially, courtesy is just a set of behaviors that we learn to ignore. People are rude and deviant when they make us think. Assholes.

I’m still not sure how to reconcile this with the fact that humans also seek out situations in which to cognate – I mean, what is boredom if not just a low-stimulus state? Or – to put a neuro spin on it – how does the brain of an interested person differ from the brain of an annoyed person?

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